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Berlusconi’s Private Diplomacy

ROME – On the Web site of the Italian Foreign Ministry, Tunisia is praised for its “ideal features” and “political and social stability.” After the popular upheaval that ousted President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali from power, the peril of supporting Arab autocrats in exchange for flimsy stability should have once again become apparent to Western powers. In Italy, however, the Tunisian uprising is also a painful reminder of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s tangle of conflicting private and public interests.

Many Italians remember that Ben Ali – whose rise to the presidency was directly supported by Italy – provided refuge to Bettino Craxi, the former Italian prime minister (and Berlusconi’s political mentor), who fled the country in 1994 to avoid conviction on corruption charges. Craxi died and is buried in the Tunisian holiday resort of Hammamet.